Chang May Choon North Korea needs to move quickly if it wants to salvage stalled nuclear talks with the United States, said a special adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday as he called for Pyongyang to start by reaching out to Seoul before an upcoming visit by US President Donald Trump to South Korea.
Addressing foreign media in Seoul yesterday, Professor Moon Chung-in urged Pyongyang to grasp a "golden opportunity" to hold a round of inter-Korea talks early next month that could pave the way for the next US-North Korea summit.
He also noted that both sides remain committed to dialogue despite a huge gap in their positions with regard to the next step towards denuclearisation of the North.
"Time is on nobody's side," he said in reference to the year-end deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month for the US to come up with a new proposal, after their last round of talks broke down in Hanoi in February.
"I urge North Korea's leadership to think about June... (and) utilise this momentum in every possible way."
Mr Trump is slated to make a stop in Seoul as part of his visit to Japan to attend the Group of 20 summit to be held from June 28 to 29 in Osaka.
Prof Moon, who was part of a three-member panel that came together yesterday to discuss the status and prospects of North Korea's denuclearisation, suggested that the two Koreas could sit down for a fourth summit in the first half of next month, hopefully at the truce village of Panmunjom where the first two summits between President Moon and Mr Kim were held.
But the decision ultimately lies with Pyongyang, which has stonewalled both the South and the US after Mr Trump walked out on Mr Kim's offer in Hanoi to dismantle the regime's main Yongbyon nuclear facility for the easing of five sets of sanctions.
Experts say North Korea is in the midst of recalibrating its nuclear strategy.
Meanwhile, the regime has been testing US patience by twice launching projectiles under the guise of defensive drills and blasting the South's recent military exercise with ally US.
While critics are starting to question Pyongyang's intentions given its track record of backing out of nuclear talks, the panel - which also included former State Department official Morton Halperin and former US envoy for the six-party talks with North Korea Joseph DeTrani - stressed the importance of building trust in the long-drawn negotiation process with North Korea, and the need for reciprocal action.
The panel also agreed that both the US and North Korea were invested in talks for the long run, and that they would need to strike a compromise to break out of the current impasse.
Mr Trump on Monday renewed calls for Mr Kim to seize the opportunity to "transform his country through denuclearisation", adding that North Korea has "tremendous economic potential".
But the US leader also said he was in no rush to resume negotiations and that sanctions would remain in the meantime.
Mr DeTrani said there were ways to work around some of the sanctions, but negotiations must continue first for that to be worked out.
"They do want sanctions relief, but they also want normal relations with the United States, and that's part of the security assurances that they want, expect and need," he added.
Prof Moon said that North Korea viewed sanctions relief as the most important part of building new relations with the US, but Washington demanded complete denuclearisation first before sanctions could be lifted.
"There's a huge perception difference between Washington and Pyongyang... Unless they can narrow that gap, it'd be very difficult to make progress."